It's been that sort of year for the Eagles.
With Fremantle’s four-point win over the reigning-for-three-more-weeks premiers, four teams were eliminated from finals contention, and just 13 real possibilities remain for the final eight.
The Magpies remain a theoretical possibility because of their percentage, poor as it may be, but not a realistic one.
Here’s what we’re looking at moving into the final three rounds, including our Following Football predictions for this weekend’s Round 21 matches as currently constructed as of Tuesday morning.
Geelong versus GWS
Geelong Cats (15-4-0, 133 per cent, ELO-FF rating of 76.9) versus GWS Giants (8-10-1, 95 per cent, ELO-FF rating of 47.6), currently at GMHBA Stadium on Friday or Saturday.
Oddsmakers: Cats by 32.5; ELO-Following Football: Cats by 35.
Next week: Geelong should beat St Kilda at home; GWS versus Richmond is close to a tie.
Round 23: The Cats have a desperate Demons club on the docket; the Giants should be one- or two-goal favourites over a Carlton team that will probably be out of it at that point.
Bulldogs versus Essendon
Western Bulldogs (15-4-0, 142 per cent, ELO-FF rating of 71.0) versus Essendon Bombers (8-11, 103 per cent, rating of 50.5), currently at Marvel Stadium on Friday or Saturday.
Oddsmakers: Bulldogs by 22.5; ELO-Following Football: Bulldogs by 21.5.
Next week: Bulldogs over Hawthorn; Essendon two- or three-goal favourite at Gold Coast.
Round 23: Bulldogs should beat Port unless they can rest folks for finals; Bombers over Magpies.
Richmond versus North Melbourne
Richmond Tigers (8-11-0, 98 per cent, ELO-FF rating of 49.9) versus North Melbourne Kangaroos (4-14-1, 71 per cent, rating of 40.4), currently at the MCG on Saturday.
Oddsmakers: Tigers by 15.5; ELO-Following Football: Tigers by 11.5. But we’re taking the Kangas to cover at the very least – and we never say that unless we see winning as a reasonable outcome, which we absolutely do. Recent history suggests this game is a toss-up, which would’ve been unbelievable three months ago.
Next week: Richmond and GWS is close to a tie; North hosting Sydney is a tall task.
Round 23: This version of the Tigers can’t be favoured in Alastair Clarkson’s last game coaching the Hawks; the Kangas should be favoured over the Crows.
Carlton versus Gold Coast
Carlton Blues (8-11-0, 94 per cent, ELO-FF rating of 44.9) versus Gold Coast Suns (6-13-0, 81 per cent, ELO-FF rating of 28.7), currently planned for Marvel Stadium on Saturday.
Oddsmakers: Blues by 24.5; ELO-Following Football: Blues by 23.
Next week: Carlton will be a significant underdog at Port Adelaide; Gold Coast will be a slight underdog hosting Essendon.
Round 23: Hosting the Giants, the Blues will be slight underdogs (especially if they’re done as far as finals); the Suns will be expected to lose their last game of the year to the finalist Swans.
West Coast versus Melbourne
West Coast Eagles (10-9-0, 96 per cent, ELO-FF rating of 33.2) versus Melbourne Demons (14-4-1, 132 per cent, percentage, ELO-FF rating of 68.4), set for Optus Stadium on Saturday.
Oddsmakers: Demons by 14.5; ELO-Following Football: Demons by 23 points.
Next week: The Western Derby is now a toss-up at best for West Coast; Melbourne will be favoured by many goals over Adelaide.
Round 23: If the Lions are fighting for a top-four berth, they’ll manhandle the Eagles; meanwhile, the toughest road trip in the league right now greets the Demons when they go to Kardinia Park to face a Cats club probably seeking a top-two finish.
Adelaide versus Port Adelaide
Adelaide Crows (6-13-0, 80 per cent, ELO-FF rating of 26.7) versus Port Adelaide Power (14-5-0, 122 per cent, ELO-FF rating of 63.1), but apparently not at the Adelaide Oval, so it’ll be somewhere on Saturday night.
Oddsmakers: Power by 32.5; ELO-Following Football: Power by 35.5.
Next week: Adelaide will be heavy underdogs to Melbourne, while Port will be a favourite over Carlton by an uncertain number of goals.
Round 23: It’s very possible that the Crows won’t be favoured over the Roos, even at home; the Power almost certainly won’t be favoured when they play at Marvel against the league-leading Bulldogs.
Hawthorn versus Collingwood
Hawthorn Hawks (5-13-1, 81 per cent, ELO-FF rating of 33.9) versus Collingwood Magpies (6-13-0, 92 per cent, ELO-FF rating of 48.1), currently planned for the University of Tasmania Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Oddsmakers: Collingwood even with Hawthorn (no spread!); ELO-Following Football: Magpies by nine points, but on form Hawthorn’s looking slightly better right now.
Next week: Hawthorn will be underdogs to the Bulldogs at home next week; Collingwood will be similarly underdogs to Brisbane.
Round 23: For the Hawks, beating the Tigers will depend on whether their opponent is in finals contention and how serious of a send-off they plan to give Clarkson that day in Tasmania. For the Magpies, there’s no expectation of such excitement playing the Bombers.
St Kilda versus Sydney
St Kilda Saints (8-11-0, 86 per cent, ELO-FF rating of 46.1) versus Sydney Swans (13-6-0, 118 per cent, ELO-FF rating of 66.7), slated for Marvel Stadium on Sunday.
Oddsmakers: Swans by 15.5; ELO-Following Football: Swans by 14.
Next week: St Kilda travels to play Geelong, where winning will be possible but less than 50 per cent likely; playing North Melbourne will not be the walkover that it would have looked two months ago, but Sydney should still be a bit of a favourite.
Round 23: Both the Saints and the Dockers are contending for a spot in the eight – the winner here is the one still contending. The Swans should win easily over the Suns.
Fremantle versus Brisbane
Fremantle Dockers (9-10-0, 91 per cent, ELO-FF rating of 42.7) versus Brisbane Lions (12-7-0, 125 per cent, ELO-FF rating of 61.2), planned for Optus Stadium on Sunday.
Oddsmakers: Lions by 10.5; ELO Following Football: Lions by 10.5, but their current trajectories suggest that this is a coin-flip game.
Next week: Fremantle was once the underdog in the Western Derby; now, if anything, they’ve got a slight edge. Brisbane hosts Collingwood and should win. Should.
Round 23: if the game really is at Marvel Stadium, the Dockers will be underdogs to the Saints; the truth, though, is that the team whose chances of making the eight are better will be favourites and probably pull out the win. The Lions should handle a visit from the crumbling Eagles without too much trouble.
What would all of those results and uncertain results mean for the post-Round 23 ladder?
The Western Bulldogs will finish 18-4 (assuming no game-altering hiccups) and win their first-ever minor premiership.
The winner of the Geelong-Melbourne game in Round 23 hosts the rematch in the week one qualifying final.
Port Adelaide and Sydney will both finish 16-6-0, so percentage will determine who gets the all-important fourth-place double chance.
Our forecasts give Port about 325 net points above even for the season, and with fewer points scored with a better defence throughout the year, plus two reasonably competitive games in Rounds 21-22 for the Swans, Sydney would need to beat the Gold Coast by over 100 points in the finale to pass the Power.
But it’s the Suns – so if the AFL schedules that game after Port’s game versus the Bulldogs, and the result puts their target at all within reach, they may not even need all ten wickets to reach their target.
Brisbane’s destined for sixth place and will be favoured against whoever ends up winning seventh.
The key to the mid-ladder race is Fremantle. They’ll have three eight-point games in August: Brisbane at Optus, West Coast at Optus, and St Kilda ostensibly at Marvel.
Go 3-0 and they’re guaranteed a finals berth; defeat the Eagles by four goals and they’re almost guaranteed seventh, and the almost is contingent on West Coast winning the other two games, which they won’t.
Even two out of three puts them at 11-11, and if the loss isn’t to the Eagles, they’re in great shape to make the top eight.
But if West Coast wins the Derby? They’re guaranteed an 11-win season. Can someone top that? Only Fremantle, and that would have to be by percentage, and they would lose more percentage in their Derby loss, so that seems a bridge too far.
Whoops. Wrong rivalry game. Better go pray for forgiveness about that mistake – whoops. Wrong rivalry again. Thus the winner of the Western Derby earns a spot in finals.
The other spot could go to the loser of that game, but the best option on the eastern end of the state would be either GWS (which with the expected loss, draw, win would go 9-11-2) or Essendon (who would earn the equivalent record of 10-12-0 going loss, win, win).
By percentage, the Bombers would earn the nod – but expecting a GWS-Richmond draw on our part is a ridiculous bet-hedge, and it would only take a Toby Greene kick that slightly surpasses his effort at the end of the Kangaroos game to push GWS into the front there.
Translation: Fremantle has the edge for seventh, and West Coast, GWS, and Essendon are neck-and-neck-and-neck for eighth.
Richmond has a shot if they can defeat both North Melbourne and Hawthorn. That sounds easy until you realise that in the last two months, their one win was against a weakened Lions club, and the other six games were losses to Fremantle, Geelong, Collingwood, Gold Coast, St Kilda, and the Eagles.
They’ve averaged just 58 points per game against that murderer’s row, including that 22-point debacle against the Saints. In the same time frame as they’ve gone 1-6, the Hawks have won two and drawn a third; North has won three of their seven.
If the Tigers don’t win at least two of three from North, GWS, and Hawthorn, the task is impossible; if they win all three, it’s still not a guarantee to be good enough. I don’t see it happening. But this is the team that went from 3-10 to finals in nine easy steps less than a decade ago, so until it’s impossible, it’s still possible.
And Carlton and St Kilda already have 11 losses as well and are projected to get at least two more each. No go.
As for the bottom five, it’s almost a toss-up thanks to the improved play of the bottom two teams.
• Collingwood looks to drop two with Hawthorn being a coin flip. Six wins plus a maybe.
• Adelaide faces two hard losses and a coin-flip game against North in Round 23. Six wins plus a maybe.
• Gold Coast has six wins already but will be hard pressed to find another one. Six wins straight.
• Hawthorn is facing a defeat to the Bulldogs and two toss-ups against the Pies and Roos. Five wins, a tie and two maybes.
• And North Melbourne won’t beat Sydney but could beat either the Crows or Hawks (or both). Four wins, a tie and two maybes.
Thanks to their poor first half of the season, the wooden spoon is theirs to surrender to either the Hawks or Crows by defeating them; the Suns and Pies aren’t out of the race either if North does win both games. But that’s what it depends on.
We won seven of our nine picks last week, made significant coin on our two-dollar hypothetical wagers for the first time in a few weeks, and the ELO-FF forecasts are 14 games better than the odds-setters for the season (91-77). Here’s hoping all of that bodes well for the last 36 games (including nine finals match-ups).
P.S. Marcus Bontempelli had an average game against Adelaide and lost a chunk of his lead to the front of the peloton behind him – Sam Walsh, Touk Miller, Jack Steele, Clayton Oliver, and Christian Petracca. The race is still his to lose, however.